Saturday, February 4, 2012

Overcoming Stress

Ever feel like this?

One of my friends/classmates and I were having a conversation about taking on 50 million duties (because they all sound like great opportunities), and then feeling anxious and stressed once it seems like too much. All of us get stressed. It's how we deal with it that's different. Some people draw or paint, while some people overeat. Me? I run.

In one episode of "The Simpsons," Homer proclaims, "To alcohol! The cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems."Perhaps you've seen and remember it, but if not, I have my good friend YouTube to help me out.

Remember now? Anyway, that's my attitude toward running.

Through all of the break-ups, moves, exams, and everything else, my running shoes have been there for me. I find that running helps me clear my head, because I'm not being distracted by meetings, classwork, emails, and phone calls (this is another reason why I don't bring my phone with me when I run). It's the one time of the day that I'm guaranteed to have me time (assuming that I choose to run by myself).

Of course, there have been some instances where running has caused issues. About a week before I was scheduled to run the 2010 Portland Marathon, I noticed a couple of tiny bumps on my right abdomen, and they were itchy. I thought they were bedbug bites (I was living in NY at the time, and there was a bedbug issue at the time), so I bought some cortisone cream. That didn't seem to help, as a couple more bumps appeared (same general area). I still figured it was something minor, but because I was leaving in a few days for a weeklong vacation, I decided to call my dermatologist. Fortunately, she had an opening that afternoon. After about two seconds of looking at the affected area, she said, "Oh, this is a classic case of shingles!" My reaction was something along the lines of, "Wait, what?! How did that happen? I'm supposed to run a marathon on Sunday!" My grandmother had shingles, and up to that moment, I thought it was incredibly rare for anyone under the age of 35 to develop.

The doctor informed me that shingles can develop as a result of stress, and asked if I had been stressed lately. Well...yeah. I was working full-time, applying to grad school, studying for the GREs, and training for a marathon. A couple months prior, I had to deal with moving and some other personal issues which I won't elaborate on right now. So in a way, my means of relieving stress caused it as well.

You ready for some more science??

When you're stressed, your adrenal glands (in the brain) produce excess cortisol. Prolonged periods of high cortisol levels slows down the production of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins support immune function, dilate blood vessels, and are anti-inflammatory. (Source)

Shingles is in the herpes simplex family of viruses. After you get chicken pox, the shingles virus lays dormant (inactive) in your body. Having a weakened immune system makes you more susceptible to an outbreak, hence why it's more common in people 50 and older.

See the correlation here?? Find effective ways to manage stress. Spend time with friends and loved ones. Because all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. And life is too short to be anything but happy.

(Just to confirm, I did finish the marathon. I spent the whole time telling myself that I had to rise above everything that happened. And I did, by finishing in record time. I'll tell the story of that race another time.

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